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PIT@STL: Wacha shuts down the Pirates over seven

To maintain their lead in the National League Central, the Cardinals need a strong showing in the series against the Mariners. They won first game, and on Saturday, they'll send rookie Michael Wacha after the series win.

Wacha will be opposed by fellow rookie James Paxton, who will be making his second Major League start.

This will be Wacha's seventh start and 13th Major League appearance. He currently holds the longest active scoreless streak in the Majors among starting pitchers at 19 2/3 innings through five games (two starts), which is tied with Joe Kelly for the Cardinals' longest streak this season.

In his last start against Pittsburgh on Sunday, Wacha allowed two hits in seven innings with two walks and two strikeouts.

"I've played in some big-time games before in college," Wacha said. "This is a little bit different, for sure, but it's helped me going to [Texas] A&M and playing in those big-time games. It got me prepared for it, I guess. I just try not to think too much. I go out there and just trust my stuff."

Wacha tossed two perfect innings before giving up his first hit in the third inning, which was a ground-rule double. He walked two batters, but both were erased by double plays.

"He's a few years ahead of me," Adam Wainwright said. "He's a young kid, but he's got more talent than I had. He's got better stuff than I do. He's going to go out there and give us quality innings because he's a quality pitcher and a quality guy. He wants to be great, just like the rest of these young guys in here, and he's got the stuff to do it."

Paxton, on the other hand, is coming off an impressive debut when he defeated the Rays with six innings of four-hit ball with two runs (one earned). He also had one walk and three strikeouts.

"I was definitely nervous going into that, but that's a good thing," Paxton said. "If you weren't nervous, something's wrong. I was able to put that aside and just use it, if anything, to help me focus in. I haven't talked to anybody that wasn't nervous for their first outing."

Paxton threw five scoreless innings before Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning.

"It was definitely nice to get that one under my belt and be able to help the team out," the 24-year-old lefty said. "That's what I'm looking to do every time, just help the team as best as I can."

Mariners: Ready for a challenge
The Mariners had lost four in a row going into the start of this 10-game road trip, their longest of the season, but manager Eric Wedge said the club is eager to see how it fares against the Cardinals and Tigers, who both lead their divisions.

"I look at it like you're playing two of the best teams -- if not the two best teams in baseball -- in their backyard in the middle of September," Wedge said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere and a great challenge for our guys. We're throwing out one of the youngest lineups in baseball right now. They're learning every night. They're making mistakes, but they're learning from them."

Cardinals: Battling to keep sole possession of division lead
Even after taking two of three from the Brewers, the Cardinals haven't been able to shake the Pirates or the Reds in the standings. However, a win on Friday gave them a one-game lead over the Pirates.

"I hope the guys don't spend too much time thinking about it. We talked about how that could happen earlier in the season when things were going well," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think that can just be a discouragement, I think it could be a distraction. Part of our job around here as a staff is to limit the number of distractions and that's something that we can't control."

Matheny said they can't help but do a little bit of scoreboard watching, but they need to do their jobs.

"We can control what we can control at that particular time, and now we've got to take care of our own business. They'll take care of their own, and yeah, we peek up there every once in a while and look at the scoreboard," Matheny said. "Yeah, you can't help but do that. But it's out of our hands. We got enough on our plate to handle what we're playing."

Worth noting
• Kyle Seager has started a franchise-record 100 consecutive starts at third base for the Mariners.

• With 16 games remaining, Matt Carpenter has the chance to become the first Cardinal since Albert Pujols in 2003 to record 200 hits in a season. Carpenter has a National League-high 179.. He also remains two doubles shy of reaching 50. That, too, was last done by Pujols, in '03 and '04.

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